Capitol Updates

Friday, June 4, 2021

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  • ACTION ALERT: Survey on Best Use of Education COVID Relief Funds
  • ACTION ALERT:  Educator Input Sought on Regs Affecting School Librarians   
  • 2021 Sine Die Legislative Report
  • Final Review of Education-Related Priority Bills

ACTION ALERT: Complete Survey on Best Use of Education COVID Relief Funds

As part of its commitment to stakeholder engagement, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) is seeking input on statewide and local use of American Rescue Plan Funds. Enacted by Congress in March 2021, the federal Rescue Plan provides $546 million to K-12 education in Nebraska, with 90% flowing directly to districts.

Teacher and staff input can be provided by filing out the following survey located HERE. The purpose of this brief survey is for NDE to gain input into local and statewide priorities for use of these federal funds. To ensure focused and intentional planning, the NDE developed the Framework for School Renewal and Acceleration. You may want to review this document prior to completing the survey.

Since March 2020, the federal government has passed three relief packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that include unprecedented support for K-12 schools to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation. The relief funding awards grants to States (SEAs), school districts (LEAs), and nonpublic schools through two separate funds: the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. The purpose of this document is to provide a high-level overview of the NDE’s actions to date on the administration of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

ACTION ALERT:   Educator Input Sought on Draft Regulations Affecting School Librarians

The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) released drafts of three new regulations regarding approval, accreditation and accountability, and is seeking input from the public. The changes could affect the hiring of school librarians. The information collected will be used as part of the rulemaking process. The NDE is required to accredit and/or approve all schools in Nebraska, guided by current Rule 10: Regulations and Procedures for the Accreditation of Schools, and Rule 14: Regulations and Procedures for the Legal Operation of Approved Nonpublic Schools. 

Changes to Rule 10 could dramatically affect the hiring practices of larger districts. School librarians would be negatively affected. The recently released proposed Rule 10 for School Libraries (page 28: 005.01C Library Media Services) includes significant changes from the current rule. Most notably, there are no requirements for school librarians beyond "a person on at least a one-half time basis to provide library media services to the school system.” 

Currently, any school with more than 250 students is required to have at least a part-time librarian on staff, with more hours and staff based on enrollment. Under this new rule draft, there could be a single half-time librarian serving the entire school system – some with thousands of students. Schools would only be required to staff their libraries with "an adult" throughout the school day. Not having certified librarians means library skills will not be taught by trained teachers who are experts in digital citizenship and the Children’s Internet Protection Act. 

We strongly encourage you to review the proposed NDE regulations and submit your comments as soon as possible. The draft rules are available for review at this website link. The public can provide input on the draft rules through this survey link. The revision process is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021 and moved to the State Board of Education for approval.

ACTION NEEDED!  It is important you contact your State Board of Education
member. Share your concerns about reducing or eliminating the opportunity
for all students to learn from a certified librarian.  

Please copy Commissioner Matt Blomstedt  matt.blomstedt@nebraska.gov 

2021 Sine Die Legislative Report

The Nebraska Legislature adjourned its 2021 session on Thursday, May 27. This session started under strict COVID-19 guidelines on Jan. 6 still amid the pandemic. Lobbyists and guests were not allowed in the Capitol Rotunda, senators wore masks or shields, and plexiglass was installed at each senator’s desk. Safety measures evolved over the course of five months, with most senators and staff receiving vaccinations. During the final session month of May, the rotunda became a more lobby-friendly environment, masks were used less frequently, senators were more accessible, and they attended in-person meetings with groups and lobbyists.   

Senators introduced 684 bills (excluding appropriation bills) and 12 constitutional amendment resolutions this year. After a long session lasting 84 days, senators passed 203 bills, including three (LB108, LB147 and LB306) that passed notwithstanding objections by the governor. The legislature indefinitely postponed 43 bills and withdrew five bills. A total of 490 bills and 12 constitutional amendment resolutions will carry over and may be considered during the 2022 session.

Bill hearings were held all day (Jan 25-March 4) instead of the normal half-day afternoon hearings with morning debate. Extensive rules were made for testimony including written testimony submitted the day before the hearing. Our thanks to NSEA members who testified or assisted with testimony: Kristine Augustine, Rex Bavousett, Burke Brown, Alicia Laufenberg, Robert Miller, Lee Perez, Lois Todd Meyer, Jodie Morgensen, De Tonack, Travis Vo, Jared Wagenknecht, Diane Wigert and Jenny Wood. A total of 74 bills had NSEA testimony submitted at hearings.

State Budget and Biennial State Aid to Education Increase

Gov. Pete Ricketts signed LB380, the state’s biennial budget of $12.3 billion, without any line item changes. The Legislature funded state aid to education at a 1.62% per year average annual increase. This included an initial decrease because of COVID-19-related changes in TEEOSA formula spending. These included -$7.64 million (-0.75%) in FY2021-22, and an additional $24.22 million (2.39%) in FY2022-23. Overall, spending for state aid totals $1.015 billion for FY2021-22 and $1.039 billion for FY2022-23. To see the 2021-22 state aid calculation for your school district, click here.

The budget also included $233.4 million in special education reimbursement for FY2021-22 (a 1% increase of $2.31 million), and $235.7 million for FY2022-23 (a 1% increase of $2.33 million). Educational service unit core services funding is $10.2 million for FY2021-22 and $10.2 million for FY2022-23.

Education Lottery Bill Fails to Advance

LB529, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz, failed to advance for lack of cloture during select file debate. The legislation was a comprehensive bill to establish the allocation of state lottery dollars for the next five years. The bill provided much needed support for the teaching profession through the Excellence in Teaching program and the Dual-Credit Education program, as well as behavioral awareness and intervention training. It addressed the Praxis Core admission test fees by providing a one-time loan for the cost of the test to cash-strapped college students who wish to pursue education as a career. College students who work for a full semester as a student teacher would have been eligible for $1,000 of their Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program loan debt forgiven.

The bill failed because of a disagreement between two groups of senators on LB673 being amended onto the bill. The bill contained language for classroom safety protocols permitting teachers and school staff to use reasonable physical intervention in order to protect staff and students from being physically harmed without the intervenor facing administrative discipline or termination. A deal brokered by NSEA brought the two groups together but unfortunately, a few remaining senators objected to the compromise agreement. After a filibuster and procedural roadblocks were utilized, a vote on AM1422 never occurred. It would have amended the compromise into LB529. Without that amendment, the bill did not have sufficient votes to end the filibuster and advance to final reading.

OSERS Management Transfers to PERB, Substitute Days Double

LB147 enacted into law establishes the transfer of duties and responsibilities for management of the Omaha School Employees Retirement System (OSERS) retirement plan to the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB). Gov. Ricketts vetoed the bill, claiming it could ultimately lead to the state taking on the liability for the OSERS underfunded pension. This assertion simply is untrue – the language within LB147 makes it clear that the plan’s employer, Omaha Public Schools, will continue to be responsible for all plan actuarial liabilities. Disregarding the governor’s comments, the legislature overrode the veto by a vote of 31 ayes and 18 nays (30 votes were necessary to override the veto).

The law’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Kolterman, worked with both the NSEA and OEA to amend it and ensure that during and after the process of OSERS being transferred to the PERB, the following will occur: (1) a new seat will be added to the PERB and will be filled by a teacher member of OSERS; and (2) the newly created OSERS board of trustees will include an OPS teacher representative.

The legislation also includes provisions of LB146, which will affect all school districts throughout the state. It increases the number of days to eight per month that a retired school employee can provide intermittent substitute or voluntary service in the 180-days following their date of retirement. Currently, under the statewide school retirement plan during the required 180-day break in service period, substitute service is allowed only “intermittently,” which is an undefined term but has been interpreted to mean roughly four days a month.

Social Security State Taxation Phase-Out Adopted

LB64, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom at the request of the NSEA-Retired and the NSEA, will phase out the state tax on Social Security benefits over 10 years. The new law contains a provision that pauses the phase-out process in year five because of a compromise reached to advance the bill from select file. Because of this pause, a new bill will be required to continue the phase-out past the year 2026 or the phase-out will be halted when the exemption is 50%. Lindstrom indicated he would introduce a bill next session that will modify the current phase-out language.

Social Security and pension income are intended to keep our elderly and disabled citizens out of poverty. Our public school employees rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet during their retirement years. Currently, Nebraska allows single tax filers with $43,000 or less in adjusted gross income ($58,000 if married filing jointly) to exempt that amount from their Social Security income.

Review of School Financing Comprehensive Plan

LB132, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer at the request of an NSEA-involved coalition, would have initiated a School Financing Review Commission to conduct an in-depth review of the financing of public K-12 schools and report on the funding of and spending by public schools. This bill stalled during select file debate, and instead a compromise was reached to implement a comprehensive review of school finance through an interim study.

The adopted resolution, LR141 creates the School Finance Study Committee, consisting of 11 members of the legislature appointed by the Executive Board. The committee will examine the methods of financing public elementary and secondary schools, including methods used in other states offering alternatives to relying on property taxes. It will also examine the option of using sales tax as a component in financing public schools.

The last comprehensive study of school finance in Nebraska took place in 1989, culminating in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act, known as TEEOSA, or the state aid formula. The prior review commission was legislatively led, with a mixed membership of educators and state agency membership.

Local Property Tax Revenue Growth Limitation Stopped

Two serious threats to the property tax revenue stream were defeated. Because of limited state funding support, property taxes remain the primary source of revenue for Nebraska’s K-12 schools. LR22CA by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan and LB408 by Sen. Tom Briese would have placed a 3% cap on property tax growth. These two proposals, one a constitutional amendment and the other a bill, would have imposed additional limitations to school revenue growth on top of the $1.05 levy rate lid and the 2% school budget growth cap.

Fortunately, LR22CA was held in committee, and LB408 failed to advance for lack of cloture during general file debate. Had they passed, the cap on revenue growth would have restricted funding for schools that most need it and made it more difficult for school officials to plan and provide a quality education to all students. Both proposals were being falsely portrayed as providing property tax relief, but what they intended to do was defund Nebraska's K-12 public schools.

Private School Funding Proposal Fails

Like recent efforts to shift public dollars away from public schools, LB364 would have hurt Nebraska's K-12 public schools, which serve nine out of every 10 children in our state. The bill failed to advance during general file debate on a vote of 29-18-2. The proposal would have diverted up to $5 million of state public dollars each year toward private K-12 schools. Had it been adopted, the bill would have created the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, a dollar-for-dollar tax benefit for those who donate to an organization that provides private school scholarships. The scholarship tax credit would have been among the most generous in the nation. It was significantly more generous than any other credit, including that for other charitable donations.

Other Laws and Bills of Interest

Newly enacted law LB154, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne at the request of the NSEA, requires the State Board of Education to implement a statewide system for tracking individual student discipline by Aug. 1, 2022. The board will use the student identifier system of the Nebraska Department of Education that can be aggregated to track student discipline by type of discipline and demographic characteristics, including, but not limited to, race, poverty, high mobility, attendance, disability and limited English proficiency. Each school will designate at least one discipline data coordinator for the purposes of gathering and reporting the discipline data. This is an important step to track the number of classroom discipline incidents occurring statewide and having an impact on the health and safety of students, teachers and staff members.

LB641, introduced by Sen. Jen Day at the request of the NSEA, would update a 100-year-old statute requiring teachers to be paid during an epidemic school closure and expand it to also include Educational Support Professionals. Under the bill, ESPs would receive their usual salary in full for times when epidemic sickness closes a school or school district. The bill would adjust current law to include schools’ support staff such as information technology, custodians, para-educators and other positions not covered by the existing protection for teacher salaries in the event of an epidemic-related school closure. The bill was advanced out of committee and is on general file for debate in 2022.

Final Review of Education-Related Priority Bills

Now that the legislature has adjourned for 2021, all bills not indefinitely postponed will carry over to the 2022 legislative session starting in January. Any 2021 prioritized bills will lose their priority status and, unless re-prioritized, will be taken up in their regular order behind advanced 2022 legislation. The full list of senator, committee and speaker priority bills is available here.

Successful Veto Override Motions

LB108 (McCollister) Change provisions relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB147 (Kolterman) Change provisions relating to retirement systems for Class V school districts 

NSEA Position: Support

Approved by Governor/Speaker

LB 2 (Briese) Change the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land for certain school district taxes 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LB14 (Blood) Adopt the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact 

NSEA Position: Neutral 

LB17 (Kolterman) Change actuarial valuation and amortization provisions for certain state retirement systems 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB64 (Lindstrom) Change provisions relating to the taxation of social security benefits 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB83 (Flood) Change the Open Meetings Act to provide for virtual conferencing 

NSEA Position: Neutral 

LB139 (Briese) Adopt the COVID-19 Liability Protection Act 

NSEA Position: Neutral  

LB143 (Kolterman) Require notice to school districts regarding changes in child placement 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB154 (Wayne) Require tracking of student discipline as prescribed 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB247 (Pansing Brooks) Create the Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB260 (Hunt) Change provisions relating to good cause for voluntarily leaving employment 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB273 (Lowe) Change provisions relating to youth rehabilitation and treatment centers 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB322 (Williams) Adopt the School Safety and Security Reporting System Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB338 (Bostelman) Provide powers and duties for the Public Service Commission regarding broadband services 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB388 (Friesen) Adopt the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB389 (Sanders) Require the issuance of teaching certificates and permits to military spouses 

NSEA Position: Neutral 

LB396 (Brandt) Adopt the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB400 (Arch) Change requirements related to coverage of telehealth by insurers and Medicaid 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB428 (HHS) Entitlement of juveniles at youth rehabilitation and treatment centers to receive educational equivalent 

NSEA Position: Support  

LB432 (REV) Change income tax rates 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LB451 (McKinney) Include characteristics associated with race under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB452 (McKinney) Adopt the Financial Literacy Act 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LB485 (DeBoer) Change provisions relating to childcare assistance 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB487 (Arch) Change insurance coverage provisions for mental health conditions and serious mental illness 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB527 (Walz) Change provisions relating to transition services for students with a developmental disability 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB528 (Walz) NDE Technical Bill: Change, eliminate, and add provisions relating to education 

NSEA Position: Support  

LB630 (Bostar) Provide for a study of the efficacy of commercial air filters in classrooms 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB639 (Day) Adopt the Seizure Safe Schools Act 

NSEA Position: Neutral 

LB644 (Hansen B.) Adopt the Property Tax Request Act 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LR25 (HHS) Provide for the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Special Oversight Committee 

NSEA Position: Support

Select File

LB54 (Lathrop) Change immunity for intentional torts under the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB132 (DeBoer) Create the School Financing Review Commission 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB281 (Albrecht) Require child sexual abuse prevention instructional programs for school students and staff 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB298 (McDonnell) Change provisions of the Employment Security Law on disqualification of certain aliens 

NSEA Position: Support  

LB568 (Pansing Brooks) Change provisions relating to truancy, juvenile courts and compulsory education 

NSEA Position: Support

Failed to Advance/Cloture Not Invoked

LB88 (Morfeld) Protect free speech rights of student journalists and student media advisers 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB258 (Vargas) Adopt the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act 

NSEA Position: Support 

LB364 (Linehan) Adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act and provide tax credits 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LB408 (Briese) Adopt the Property Tax Request Act 

NSEA Position: Oppose 

LB454 (Friesen) Adopt the School Property Tax Stabilization Act and change the valuation of agricultural land 

NSEA Position: Neutral 

LB529 (Walz) Change provisions for the distribution of lottery funds used for education 

NSEA Position: Support  

LR11CA (Erdman) Constitutional amendment to require enactment of a consumption tax 

NSEA Position: Oppose